Stages: October 2015
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Click on the title to go directly to the story
- Remarks from the Chair
- Meet Jessica Ford, our new costume design faculty member
- Donor Profile: Susan Holmes carries on her mentors' legacy
- Megan Lewis and Glenn Proud on the newest iteration of the Grahamstown Festival course
- Collidescope: Art Legacy and Community begins its next chapter
Remarks from the Chair
Are you ready? We’re ready!
We are beyond excited to be kicking off what promises to be an innovative season on several fronts.
For starters, our entire slate consists of works by living playwrights and theater practitioners, and in many cases, we’re presenting their very newest project. There are new pieces by internationally-renowned names (Marie Antoinette, Love and Information, Collidescope), new works in development (Play Lab, Donny Johns, Collidescope), one that features members of the department working with an award-winning composer to craft a new musical (Donny Johns), and a devised piece being updated with locally-relevant material (Collidescope). I couldn’t be more thrilled to have this department working at the forefront of theater today! (See the full season list if you haven’t already.)
Here, I’ll let the folks who selected the season speak for me:
By presenting these plays and performances hot off the press, we’re inviting our audiences to become part of our process in active and concrete ways. We’re also introducing our students to the various ways theatre is made, whether through developmental readings and workshops, traditional rehearsal processes, or devised theater-making methods.
One of the shows I mentioned, Collidescope 2.0: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America, will give us an opportunity to work with a favorite past collaborator, Talvin Wilks, formerly the artistic director of New WORLD Theater. Talvin, who has worked with us in numerous capacities over the years, is the piece’s co-creator together with renowned theater artist Ping Chong. (Read Priscilla Page’s story about the project below.)
They will be fixtures on campus this year, and what an honor that is! Ping Chong has just received one of the nation’s highest arts awards: on Sept. 10, he was given the National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House with President Obama. The medal is awarded to artists and arts patrons who "...are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States." Amazingly, Collidescope's set designer Mimi Lien has just been named a MacArthur Fellow.
My congratulations to Ping and Mimi — we’re thrilled to have them working with us!
If you’re curious about the project and about Ping Chong’s work, we invite you to mark your calendars for April 4, 2016. That day at 4 p.m., Ping and Talvin will deliver the Rand Lecture, and this event is free and open to all. I’d love to see you there!
This is also a great time to welcome Jessica Ford to the department. Jessica is our new assistant professor in costume design, and she comes to us with fantastic credits in New York and regional theater. She’ll be part of Collidescope’s all-women design team as well as mentoring our student designers on other shows. You can read about Jess below.
Finally, I’d like to wrap up this note about new people and projects by telling you about a new fundraiser. Our Fridays at Four series, now in its second year, brings speakers working in all areas of theater to campus to speak with our students and help them with the college-to-career transition. We’re currently raising money to build a Fridays at Four fund. The money will go to help our speakers with travel and lodging fees as well as honoraria. If you have a little bit of money to spare, we love your support to build up this fund so that we can bring these talented theater professionals to campus. Even $5 makes a difference.
Click HERE to learn more and donate before October 21. Thank you for your consideration!
That about wraps it up for me here, but please know that as always, you have a standing invitation to visit us and come see a show. Just drop us a line!
Meet Jessica Ford, our new costume design faculty member
As an undergraduate, Ford intended to be a fine artist and created figurative sculptures out of metal and wood. New faculty member Jessica Ford came to costume design because her sculptures needed something to wear—and then she found she liked making the clothes better than making the sculptures. Sculpture’s loss is UMass Theater’s gain, as Ford, a successful costume designer in New York and elsewhere, has just started at UMass as the new assistant professor in costume design.
“It was all based on the body, then I started making things for the sculpture to wear,” Ford said, explaining the progression. “And then I became more interested in the things that were being applied to the figurative sculpture, so then I started making things for people to wear and then moving them around, creating performance work.”
Once out of college, Ford no longer had access to a metal shop, so she found herself in costume shops instead, working to improve her sewing. She eventually landed at Baltimore’s Center Stage, where she found a mentor in the company's then-draper Jill Andrews.
“She turned me onto the idea of being a designer,” Ford said. “I had never really had much experience in theater and I hadn’t been too interested in the theater department in college, but I found that was a really formative time because (Center Stage) was such a great regional theater, and they brought in a lot of top-tier designers.”
Ford realized that theater was a good fit for her creatively. “I found that theater was vastly less lonely than visual art and that I was more confident about serving the playwright and a director with good ideas. I’d rather be responding to Shakespeare than trying to articulate abstract ideas that were in my head.”
“I do really enjoy all the phases of design,” she said, whether it’s the research and development of a concept, sourcing the materials for the build, fitting the pieces, or working out issues during technical rehearsals. “And also,” she offered, “if you have a short attention span, things are always shifting and changing. Each play is different, each process is different, each director … has different demands.”
Having discovered her new direction, Ford headed to Yale School of Drama. The program’s “classical” approach, as she described it, worked well for her because it helped her fill in the gaps in theater knowledge caused by her non-traditional entry into the field.
Ford considered herself lucky that she went to graduate school when she did —she thinks she was at the tail end of a generation of students who “were allowed to explore and take the time to travel or figure things out.” Ford explained that 9/11 happened during her first year, and then the economy went south, and that in the years following the tone has changed for many students, who “enter and leave college with this fear that they’re not going to be able to make a living.” Finding ways to give students that freedom to explore is something she’s interested in.
After graduate school, Ford moved to New York, and she has worked as a freelance designer over the past 12 years. The renowned costume designer Jane Greenwood “was a really important figure in my life, a huge mentor and friend,” Ford said. “She’s not a jerk. She really taught me that you can still be a kind human being and work in the structure of professional theater and get what you want, achieve the design that you want, without being a jerk.”
Three years ago, Ford became a guest instructor in Mount Holyoke College’s theater department and got to know some members of the UMass Department of Theater as well. When the costume design position opened up, she decided to apply because it seemed like a good opportunity, not least for the chance to be part of shaping our design department (we are in the process of a scenic design search). While she commuted during much of her time at Mount Holyoke, she’s now living in the valley with her husband, an actor who works nationwide, and their dog.
Although teaching now, Ford’sstill very much an active designer. She was actually in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse when the school year started, working on a project called These Paper Bullets. An update of Much Ado About Nothing featuring a faux-Beatles band in 1960s London, the project features music by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and includes a strong fashion element. Ford also makes her design debut at UMass this year, as part of the design team for Collidescope 2.0: Adventures in Pre-and Post-Racial America. As a bonus, the set designer for that project, Mimi Lien, is someone who’s been on Ford’s collaborator wish list for years.
Ford said she still considered herself a new teacher, but places great value on mentorship due to her own experience. “I wouldn’t have survived in the field if it wasn’t for my mentors,” she said. When she mentors, Ford places great value, she said, in offering feedback and guidance in such a way that the work is still that of the student. “I don’t want to impose my aesthetic on anybody,” she said. “Design is my life. I take it very seriously. I approach it with artistic and intellectual rigor. I intend for it not to be an easy class.”
See Ford's work at http://jessforddesign.com/
Donor Profile: Susan Holmes '71 carries on her mentors' legacy
Graduating Year: 1971
A favorite UMass Theater memory: Susan fondly recalls a production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Three-Penny Opera by the Roister Doisters, a student theater group. She was on the technical crew for the show. “It really blew me away. I was so amazed by the talent of everybody who was involved.”
Why do you donate to the Department of Theater? Susan is inspired by the example of her mentor, the late Doris Abramson, who was among the department’s founding members and helped Susan get her start as an arts administrator. “Doris is my motivation. She just made me feel like an important human being and that life ahead would be wonderful and thrilling and fascinating, and she gave me the courage to say ‘Yes’ to everything I’ve ever said ‘Yes’ to. She made me see what a wonderful life a life in the arts could be. And if I can help anybody in any way see that for themselves, I’m thrilled to do it.”
A meeting with a mentor sets a life's path
When Susan Holmes talks about her life and work, it quickly becomes clear that she has a gift for making connections: Her sister introduced her to the late Doris Abramson, one of the department’s founders; the meeting convinced Holmes to attend UMass. After graduation, Abramson and the late Vincent Brann encouraged Holmes to pursue her interest in arts administration, which brought her to graduate school in Florida. A meeting with stage actress Mimi Hines led to a friendship that rekindled in Florida and led to a job with Hines after graduate school.
Holmes speaks with gratitude of the people extended help and friendship to as she made her way in life.
“It’s been such a pleasure trying to remember,” she said. “It means a lot to me, and it makes me very happy that I thanked Doris.”
Holmes is now retired after a successful career in arts administration that includes, most prominently, almost three decades as director of the University of Connecticut’s von der Mehden Recital Hall, presenting well over 100 concerts, films and other events every year and mentoring the student staffers who helped her put everything together.
Among the great pleasures of her work, Holmes once told Abramson, was that she was now in a position to “do for students what she had done for me.” That sentiment is also what motivates her as a donor who wants to help current students make their way in the world.
“UMass is just integral; it’s integrally involved in every bit of my career,” she said.
Finding mentors and opportunities
Holmes met Abramson as a high schooler. Her older sister, an English major at UMass, had invited her and their mother up for lunch, and they were joined by Doris Abramson. “That was it,” said Holmes. “I made up my mind immediately. That was where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be studying with.”
At UMass, she discovered that she wasn’t just interested in the creative aspect of the arts but in the technical and administrative sides. One day after class, Holmes was passing by Bowker Auditorium—UMass’s main performance venue before the Fine Arts Center was built—and ran into a friend who worked there. That friend introduced Holmes to her boss and in short order Holmes had a job as a stagehand. It came with a great bonus: she got to meet Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, a well-known husband-and-wife team co-starring in the play I Do, I Do that evening.
Holmes loved working backstage. “I remember hanging from the ceiling of Bowker a lot, getting over my fear of heights, and rolling up a lot of cable!” she laughed.
The job had some spectacular benefits, Holmes said. “I got to hang lights while Dave Brubeck noodled around on stage, and then I got left behind to guard the instruments.” As she stood guard, sax player Gerry Mulligan and then-wife actress Sandy Dennis showed up and hung out with Holmes for an hour.
Holmes also remembered doing sound for legendary singer Nina Simone, and while she didn’t work Odetta’s show, she snuck backstage to see her show and ended up making the renowned singer a cup of tea.
From art to administration
About a year into the job, she noticed that while the stagehands were getting paid, the box office staff and ushers didn’t. Holmes pointed this out to the administrator, convinced him to change the policy, and then became head of box office.
“I started my interest in arts administration at that point, and that was the direction that I went,” Holmes said.
Bowker also connected her with members of the Magic Theatre in Omaha, NB, where she worked one summer doing everything from box office to advertising. Eventually, she decided, “Omaha wasn’t for me,” and headed back to Amherst.
Seeing her at loose ends, Abramson and Brann urged her to consider graduate school. A mutual friend of theirs worked at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, and talked up the school’s then-new arts administration program. Holmes recalled, “before I knew it, I was on a plane to Winter Park!”
It was a small program — there were only two students, and they took many of their classes directly with the Dean of the business school.
“The Dean told us that the students in the regular MBA program went to Europe for a month to international businesses and trade organizations and he asked if we would be interested in going. I said I didn’t know where the money for next semester was coming from, so, no, I couldn’t do it. And the following week he came in and said ‘I found somebody to donate the money for your trip’,” Holmes recalled. “That was the first inkling I had that donating to a school could do an awful lot of good.”
The school went further, and got her spending money for the trip as well as a job on campus as a telephone operator for the remainder of the program.
“It was a really wonderful place to be with very warm people that made me feel that my education was very important to them,” Holmes said — another lesson that she tried to take to heart with her students.
Holmes was still in Florida when Hines, the actress she’d once met at Bowker, came to Disneyworld on tour. Holmes sent Hines a note, the two reconnected, and Hines hired her to work for her on a touring production of Neil Simon’s Prisoner of Second Avenue.
Meanwhile, Holmes’ mother was hoping to get her daughter a little closer to home, which led to her next position. Holmes was a member of the Arts Presenters Association, and they sent regular mailings with job openings to Holmes. Her mother, who was getting her mail as she toured, got into the habit of forwarding all interesting job openings to her. As the tour was winding down an opening for the position of arts administrator at von der Mehden Recital Hall at the University of Connecticut came in the mail. Holmes wanted the job and remembers hand-writing her cover letter—explaining that she was on the road —because she thought it would help her make an impression.
The Neil Simon tour finished in Boston, right as UConn called her for an interview. She started at von der Mehden the very next week.
“You know what they say about luck and being in the right place at the right time,” she said. “So I became arts administrator.”
At first, her responsibilities were mainly managing the New England String Quartet—which was based in the hall—and student recitals and events.
No one had managed the hall before Holmes came aboard, so her tasks included putting together a—mostly student—staff and creating the rules and regulations that would ensure the hall’s smooth operation. Although she wasn’t able to start an arts administration program at the school, she was able to secure assistantships for MBA students whose interests lay in that direction. She was also pleased to note that she’d encouraged students to pursue graduate school in arts administration elsewhere.
She didn’t leave things there, though.
“Over time, whenever I would get bored I would come up with something new to do,” she said. A film series run by theater graduate students was losing money, so she took it over (film had been an interest of hers since high school). She also capitalized on the multicultural groups on campus by starting a concert series of world music. For both, she found grants to build up the program.
Nowadays, Holmes is retired. “I’m a great audience member!” she said, noting that her spouse is a critic and frequently brings Holmes as her plus-one to theater.
“I have my arts administrators out in the world, doing good,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to have lived that life.”
Megan Lewis and Glenn Proud write about the newest iteration of the Grahamstown Festival course
This summer, Prof Megan Lewis and Paul Adolphsen ‘15G took 21 students to South Africa to study the culture through the lens of the arts. For this, the second offering of this study aboard course, Lewis, who won a campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award this year for her passionate collaborative pedagogy and her commitment to addressing difficult topics, like race and gender politics, in her classes, paired up with Adolphsen, a Fulbright Award recipient who will be teaching in Cape Town in 2015-16. Megan, who is originally from South Africa, wrote this account describing the summer course, and we talked to Glenn Proud to get his thoughts for the companion story also posted here.
Activating a new generation of artists: Arts & Culture in South Africa, Summer 2015
by Megan Lewis
With the Grahamstown Festival course, I wanted to take students beyond the familiar, into a new culture that asks them to reflect deeply on who they are, what they stand for, and how they can be active, ethical citizens of the global world.
The 6-credit course, which includes a 10-unit online preparatory component and two weeks in-country travel, is focused around the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. This is the second largest arts festival in the world (Edinburgh is first) and the largest in Africa. The course is aimed at immersing students in a new culture through the performing arts, which offer a lens through which to examine questions of social justice, race, class and gender politics, history, language, memory, and the role of the arts.
Building on the success of the last year’s pilot course -- 14 graduate and undergraduate students joined me and Prof Al-Bilali in summer 2014 -- this year 21 students from UMass, Tufts University and Illinois State participated in this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. Prof Gibson Cima brought a cast of talented and dedicated performers from Tufts to perform their innovative Richard III at the festival.
In the online course, students are exposed to South African history, theatrical practices, questions of staging testimony and trauma, the use of sports as political performance and many other provocative and relevant topics.
“The course has given me an increased vocabulary and scope for discussing performance and space, specifically in a racial and political context,” reflected one student. “I discovered how deeply intertwined theatre/art and politics are,” commented another.
Once in-country, students explore the role of the arts in the cultural life of the country, meet artists and scholars, and then engage in reflective writing about their experiences.
In the first three days, we visited several public history and memorial sites in Johannesburg and Pretoria to gain a historical overview of the country. South Africa has undergone a series of seismic cultural shifts -- from a colonized space claimed by multiple European forces, to a white supremacist state under the apartheid regime, and now to a budding new democracy after 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected its first black president. We visited the Constitution Court and Number 4 Prison in downtown Joburg, the Liliesleaf Museum in Rivonia, and the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park in Pretoria to examine how the country memorializes the past, wrestles with its troubled history, and how these sites perform South Africa’s complex racial character.
“The few days in Joburg…gave us real insight into the history and culture of the country, which really helped in my understanding of the material in the shows in Grahamstown,” said a student.
UMass student Anderson Lara with school children in Soweto. (photo courtesy Megan Lewis)
We spent a day in Soweto visiting the township and the Hector Pieterson Memorial and then engaged in a lovely service-learning project, teaching the children at the Thembelenkosini Care Givers, a non-profit run by Witness Khosi Ntshangase (http://www.thembelacaregivers.org/.) Witness and her volunteers feed, nurture, and teach over a hundred children after school each day in the community of Senaoane in Soweto. We were greeted with a concert devised and performed by the children and then we shared performances of our own. We played theatre games with the kids, made them a healthy meal, and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading to, and with, the children.
With a strong cultural history and some profound emotions under their belts, the group then flew to Grahamstown, on the Eastern coast of the country, to experience “10 days of amazing” at the National Arts Festival.
On student explained how “the history we learned in Johannesburg, and its connections to the present, made me, as an artist, want to create…I want my work to blast holes in conventional narratives. I want to explore my complacence and break it….I fell in love with the passionate and complicated nature of South Africa, a young country that has far to go but is further along than the US in many ways.”
Applying what they had learned in Johannesburg and in the online preparatory course, students experienced a diverse array of performances – professional, student and fringe theatre, dance, film, street performances, puppetry, performance art, stand-up comedy and satire. “Seeing every kind of theatre imaginable left me in awe,” said one participant. “The vitality, synergy, joy and talent I have seen has engaged my critical muscles like nothing else!” said another.
For another perspective, CLICK HERE to read co-instructor Paul Adolphsen’s review of the festival on HowlRound.
Students were moved by the medium and the message of the work they saw (see the companion piece about Glenn Proud ‘15G’s experience).
And they were also exposed to new ways of making theatre -- and making it possible: “So many of the artists we saw were individuals who made opportunities for themselves…and as an artist and a person I was inspired by the idea of making opportunities rather than waiting for them to come to you.”
Mid-festival, the cast of Richard III performed at the local correctional facility near Grahamstown as part of the festival’s ArtsReach programme, an effort to bring work to underserved communities during the festival. One of the performers reflected on the power of that experience, when after the show, some of the prisoners thanked them for “being open enough” to come share this work with them because as prisoners “they didn't expect much from the outside world.”
Tufts students who were part of the course perform Richard III at a correctional facility near Grahamstown. (photo courtesy of Megan Lewis)
“To be able to witness, to be emotional receptive— to graciously receive creative energy from one to another creates understanding and empathy across the wide gulf of our experiences. It reinforced the fact that we were not there to educate them through exposure to art, but to learn from each other, to share and entertain and exchange narratives…I think such an important part of being human is being able to express oneself, to be heard and valued, and in an isolated prison, cut off from communities, families, and loved ones, this need can be neglected. Through taking art, theatre, and music to prisoners, we recognize their humanity…”
Over the past two decades, as I researched and worked in South African theatre as a scholar, I imagined creating this course. I always wanted to bring students to the Grahamstown festival, because it is where African artists share their incredible talents. I wanted to blow their minds, they way African artists were blowing mine.
I was pleased when students wrote in their course evaluations that the course “made me think about our global future, and challenged all of us to become active citizens, ready to question, deconstruct and create.”
“The biggest impact this course had on me,” commented one student, “is that I will not be able to look at my own country the same again.” Another added: “The South Africa I experienced was simultaneously familiar and foreign, and made me look harder at American culture and racial politics than I ever have.”
“I only wish we had more time in South Africa.”
“This course made me want to be a new kind of learner. A more active member of the community, to keep the dialogue and conversation between artistic communities alive, and to activate.”
For students interested in joining Professor Lewis and MFA Graduate and director Glenn Proud in summer 2016, please visit our website at www.theatreinafrica.weebly.com for full course details. Or contact Professor Proud at email@example.com.
Megan Lewis and Glenn Proud raise their glasses to an amazing trip and course. (photo courtesy Megan Lewis)
The Grahamstown Festival Course — one participant’s perspective
Glenn Proud ‘15G had never been out of the country before and was hungry to encounter theater unlike what he knew from home. He’d heard nothing but rave reviews of Megan Lewis’ 2014 Grahamstown Festival course, and he’d had a great experience being Lewis’ teaching assistant for one of her classes during her time here. Thus, when Lewis put out the call that she’d be going again in 2015, Proud immediately made plans to be part of the group.
“It was beyond expectations!” he said — so much so, that he will be going again next year, this time as Lewis’ co-instructor.
The trip is the highlight of the course, but it’s preceded by a 10-week course on Moodle that, Proud said, “acts as such as artistic and political primer.” The context provided by these materials means the students could drop right into experiencing the community and energy of the trip, which began with several days on the ground studying the politics, economy, and culture before heading to Grahamstown for the festival.
Proud’s favorite artistic experience of the festival was a three-man piece of physical theater called Undermined, in which the performers told the story of an immigrant miners. “It spoke against the dangers of xenophobia,” Proud said. “…The three men in 1 hour and 10 minutes just used their three bodies, each other, their voices, the landscapes of their body, the sounds of their own vocal instruments… to create this wonderfully rich physical theater space. It was amazing, the commitment they shared.”
He said the audience members “were ripped out of their seats at the end. There was no way we could just mildly applaud!”
At the festival, Proud said, he was repeatedly struck with the warm, inviting ambience, the artists and locals alike eager to talk to visitors and connect. His other favorite memory of the trip was an evening spent at The Long Table, which he described as a “sort of pop-up community late-night dinner” where artists and patrons gathered in the evening to enjoy home-cooked food, share a drink, and talk.
Lewis had included readings by Brett Bailey in the Moodle preparation for the trip, and one night, Proud was thrilled to find himself sitting across the table from Bailey, talking about their work. It was amazing to have the conversation “with somebody that you almost hold on a pedestal — and when you meet them, you realize there is no pedestal because they’re just so open with you!” Proud said.
Group photo at the Voortrekker Monument. (Photo courtesy of Megan Lewis)
Collidescope: Art Legacy and Community begins its next chapter
by Priscilla Page
This November marks the beginning of an exciting collaboration between Ping Chong + Company and the UMASS Department of Theater. We will produce Collidescope 2.0: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America as the final piece in our 2015-2016 season through the leadership and the vision of Professor Judyie Al-Bilali.
Last year, Professor Al-Bilali inaugurated Art, Legacy & Community, a two-year exploration of the legacy of Black radical activism and creative expression in our department, on our campus and in our community. She has been an active participant in this rich legacy from three vantage points: as an undergraduate student working with choreographer Diana Ramos and jazz musician Archie Schepp in W.E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies; an MFA graduate student mentored closely by Professors Virginia Scott and Dick Trousdell; and now as an Assistant Professor who specializes in Theater and Performance for Social Transformation. Between her comings and goings at UMASS, she founded Brown Paper Studios, an applied theater company in Cape Town, South Africa and has also taught at both NYU and CUNY. Through Art, Legacy & Community, Professor Al-Bilali models her approach to theater, one that is equal parts political and cultural pushing the bounds of aesthetics.
It is a natural connection then for her to bring Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks, of Ping Chong + Company, to our campus this year. Chong, a 2015 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Arts, and Wilks, a dramaturg, director and writer with Bessie and Obie-award winning credits, have collaborated for two decades on the Undesirable Elements series. With this work, they travel around the U.S. and create theater “by real people” who “tell real stories” about their experiences as “the other” in various settings. Reflecting on Brooklyn ’63, their latest iteration of this work, Al-Bilali remarked that she felt “inspired to go more deeply into her own history after witnessing such uplifting truth on stage.” UMASS Alum Stanley Kinard performed in that piece and shared his leadership role in the founding of the W.E. B. Department of Afro-American Studies on our campus. She says, “Our students of color need to know this history and they need to use art through the lens of Black consciousness to look more deeply at what is happening around us.” This is her primary motivation for bringing Collidescope 2.0 to our campus. Chong and Wilks created the first iteration of this piece in response to the escalating incidents of the racialized violence and murder of African American men in our society. As artists they use creative expression to document the crisis of our time and to agitate for social justice.
Chong and Wilks will be in residence this November when we will present a staged reading of the play and hold auditions for the Spring production. They will return to work with a company of student actors to create a version of the story that highlights significant moments of Black history at UMASS and in the Pioneer Valley. Al-Bilali is excited to introduce our students to these two innovators in our field who use language and imagery in simple, direct, and powerful ways to examine race, racism, and violence in this country.
Hello lovely friends!
It’s time to kick off the first 2015-2016 set of updates with a look at what people did with their summers.
If you feel like sharing your news in the next issue of Stages, we’d LOVE to have it — send us updates, photos, video links — we would love to see it all!
And with that, on to the news:
Sound Design professor Amy Altadonna designed and composed original music for Seminar at New Century Theater, the production that kicked off their 25th anniversary season.
She had a busy summer in the Berkshire: She designed The Unexpected Man and Red Velvet, starring John Douglas Thompson in the Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare and Company. “I had a great time out there! I worked closely with scenic designer and UMass grad John McDermott ‘94.
I composed theme music for a new podcast which launches this fall, and I joined the designers union, United Scenic Artists 829.
I also adopted three adorable, agreeable little rats - Danny, Gus and Old Man —and they are so much fun!” (Here is a video of Gus enjoying some pasta!)
Toby Bercovici ‘11G has become part of Holyoke, MA’s burgeoning arts scene with her company Real Live Theatre. The group performed a piece called Queen Margaret, culled from text culled from Shakespeare’s works.
Rachel (Cummings) Braidman ’06 let us know she and husband Scott Braidman ’06 became parents about a month ago, and sent us this pair of photos of daughter Amelia. Go ahead, try not to “Awwwww.”
Rob Corddry ’93 was a series regular in HBO’s most-watched comedy in 16 years, Ballers.
Jane Cox was all kinds of innovative when she lit what’s known colloquially as the Cumberbatch Hamlet: http://variety.com/2015/legit/reviews/hamlet-review-benedict-cumberbatch-1201577724/
Professor Harley Erdman let us know that the book he’s been working on, an
anthology of plays by 17th century Spanish women, will be published, probably in early 2016. It includes 10 plays in first-ever translations (by Erdman), and has critical introductions by Lisa Vollendorf and Nieves Romero-Diaz.
“On a bouncier note,” he added, “I taught in the Edinburgh program again, and saw alum Linda McInerney ‘98G there, as well as her production Frankenstein, which was very well-received, including a 4-star review from the prestigious Scotsman. “
James Horban ‘15G landed a great gig fresh from graduation: “I have accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Live Entertainment Technology at Lone Star College - Montgomery down in Houston! I'll be teaching Lighting for Live Entertainment and Vectorworks, as well as doing some lighting and scenic design for the drama department, so essentially it's a continuation of my last few years at UMass; I'll just be making three times as much!”
Professor Gina Kaufmann directed an Equity production of Rebecca Gilman's new play, Luna Gale, for New Century Theater in Northampton.
Here is a link to the review:
"Luna Gale is the best play I've seen New Century Theatre perform in the five years I've been enjoying their annual summer slate of shows at Smith College's Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts.”
Lucinda Kidder ‘03G sent us a brochure for her Silverthorne Theatre Company, which presented a slate of work this summer: http://www.silverthornetheater.org/
Cory Missildine ’15 is currently working for New Repertory Theater's Classic Repertory Company. “We are touring all over New England with two shows, Julius Caesar (in which I play Caesar) and 1984 (in which I play Parsons). The tour goes to April and it's basically an educational tour, so we also conduct workshops and talkbacks at every venue!”
Julie Nelson was promoted to full Professor! She is on sabbatical this year.
Professor Chris Baker and graduate student in dramaturgy Finn Lefevre spent the summer in Baltimore. Baker wrote an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for Center Stage, and LeFevre assisted Baker and the company dramaturg through the production process. The Baltimore Sun loved it!
Ashley Toolan ’06 works as Development Associate for San Diego Opera since January 2015. “I'm currently the face of Tosca for our upcoming production!” she wrote, adding some photos as proof.